There are just over a million people buried in Dublin’s most famous cemetery; Glasnevin; just as there are around a million inhabitants of Ireland’s capital city. Aoife Kelleher’s documentary celebrates the legacy of Glasnevin Cemetery, the people buried there, and their legacy.
To anyone living in Dublin, Glasnevin Cemetery is a place synonymous with the Irish Republicans buried there; from Michael Collins to Eamonn DeValera, but there are more than a million others interred in the famous final resting place, as the film reveals.
The documentary focuses on those who have an affinity for the cemetery, notably the cemetery’s historian Shane Mac Thomáis. Through Mac Thomáis’s eyes we see the legacy of the cemetery and get to see the historian leading tours around the graveyard’s more famous sights. As a narrator, Mac Thomáis is warm and engaging, and his enthusiasm for this city of the dead is infectious. The rest of the narrators of the film range from a French woman whose love for Michael Collins leads her to his grave several times a year, a tour guide whose still born daughter is buried in the plot of the Angels, and a young woman whose mother died four years previously.
One Million Dubliners attempts to marry the ideas of life, death, those left behind and the history of Glasnevin together, and succeeds to varying degrees. There are scenes in the crematorium that feel a little macabre and surplus to requirements, and there are times when the message of the film gets a little lost in the admittedly wonderful tales told by the people on screen. The film finds its way again when the subjects of the documentary discuss their preferences about what should happen to them when they die.
One Million Dubliners is a film about the history of Dublin and the people that shaped the country, but also the people who shaped Glasnevin Cemetery itself, and kept history safe for future generations. Shane Mac Thomáis is a wonderful, warm and engaging narrator, and the film suffers when attention is turned away from him. There are times when the film feels like an ad for the Cemetery’s Museum, but the warm and affection that emanates from its subjects saves the films from being schmaltzy or preachy.